UCI Can’t Convert with BYU

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Phuc Pham | New University
Phuc Pham | New University

DEFEATED: In the showdown between No. 1 UCI and No. 2 BYU, UCI eventually fell 3-2 after a two-set advantage.

After trailing 2-0, No. 2 BYU came out victorious after winning three straight sets to defeat No. 1 UC Irvine 3-2 at the Bren Events Center Friday in front of 2,906 fans.

With this loss, the Anteaters’ 11-game winning streak has been snapped. They are now 15-4 overall and 12-4 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. BYU improves to 12-3 overall and 11-2 in the MPSF.

Irvine’s middle blocker Collin Mehring set a new school record with a career-high 14 block assists. Outside hitter Kevin Tillie led the Anteaters in kills with 20, as well as recording 11 digs and four service aces. Opposite Zack La Cavera had 15 kills, six digs and six block assists, while setter Daniel Stork recorded a career-high 52 set-assists.

One man UCI could not stop was BYU’s freshman star Ben Patch, who led all players with a career-high 35 kills, setting a new BYU kills record. He also had eight digs and five blocks. Outside hitter Josue Rivera also had a nice game with 12 kills, seven digs and five block assists.

“We shouldn’t have lost the third set and so forth, especially when we had a big lead. We let them go on a roll and it fired them up. That’s how they won the game,” Tillie said.

UC Irvine started the game strong, energizing the crowd with three consecutive blocks to lead the first set 15-12. Irvine continued to hold a three-point lead until Patch made a block and then a kill to even up the score at 18-18. However, the Anteaters started to find their momentum as they recorded numerous kills and blocks consecutively, winning the first set 25-22.

Phuc Pham | New University
Phuc Pham | New University

The second set was no different. The Cougars surrendered six straight points, including three aces from Tillie, for an 8-3 UCI lead. The Anteaters would continue to control the game, as they would hold the biggest lead of the game 21-15. However, BYU would fight back, going on a 5-0 run, including three consecutive kills by Patch, and eventually evening the score at 23. The Cougars somehow could not continue their sweet rhythm, as a kill by UCI’s Zack La Cavera and a BYU attack that flew long would give Irvine their second straight set at 26-24.

After two service aces from UCI’s Jeremy Dejno and with the ’Eaters leading the third set 14-8, everyone in the building must have thought that this game would be over with a complete sweep by UCI. They continued to lead up to 19-14 until BYU would go on a 10-3 run, eventually capturing the lead at 24-22. A huge kill by Patch gave the Cougars some life, as they finished the third set 25-23.

In the fourth set, everything changed. The momentum from the third set carried on to the fourth set, and BYU stayed on top the entire game as they were making play after play. As the score was tied at 22, BYU setter Ryan Boyce climbed over the scorer’s table, saving a ball that was passed over the net, and forced a UCI attack error, which pumped up the Cougars and its fans. BYU would force a fifth set after Rivera wrapped up the fourth with a kill and ended the set 25-23.

As Irvine lost their momentum, rhythm and motivation, they came out of the fifth set horribly, as BYU completely took over the last set and never gave the Anteaters a chance to lead or even tie up the score. The Cougars took the last set 15-11 and grabbed a huge comeback win, ending the match 3-2.

“We fell into a little bit of a mental slump. Overall I thought we executed pretty well but we had some holes tonight. We really didn’t have anybody stepping it up when somebody stepped down, and that makes it tough for us,” Coach David Kniffin said.

“I think we need a break. We need to let our guys go to the beach this weekend and recharge their batteries because we had a pretty grueling schedule up until now. This will be the first time that we will be able to take two full days off on the weekend, and we haven’t had the luxury of doing that since before January.”

Phuc Pham | New University
Phuc Pham | New University

The Anteaters used a season-high 18.5 blocks to edge out Cal Baptist 3-2 on Wednesday at the Bren Events Center. The Anteaters were up 2-0 the first two sets, but similar to the BYU match, they gave up two straight sets right after to Cal Baptist to even the set score at 2-2. The last set was very close, as the Anteaters had enough firepower to win it all and come out of the arena victorious.

UC Irvine will travel to the school right across the block against their rival, Cal State Long Beach, next Saturday at the Walter Pyramid at 7 p.m.

“We are ready to beat Long Beach. Even though we will be playing them at their home, we are used to it because we played a lot of away games before,” Mehring said. “Since we have a long break, we will be able to focus in practice and be prepared for our next game.”

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